On August 3, 2012 Dr. Martin Fleischmann, co-discoverer of cold fusion, passed away in his home after a long illness.
Obituaries produced by mainstream news outlets were nothing more than gross distortions of career that exemplified intellectual honesty and integrity. The science journal Nature was but one publication that mischaracterized Fleischmann’s work where author Philip Ball wrote of cold fusion as a “pathological science”, and the “blot” it left on Fleischmann’s career.
Fortunately, Dr. Brian Josephson, a Cambridge University professor and Nobel laureate, responded to Nature’s portrayal with a letter published in Nature Correspondence. Because of licensing arrangements, the text has only recently become available to non-subscribers, and is reproduced here.
Here is Brian Josephson’s letter to Nature magazine:
Cold fusion: Fleischmann denied due credit
Brian D. Josephson
From Nature 490, 37 (04 October 2012)
Original online publication at nature.com, 03 October 2012
Philip Ball’s obituary of Martin Fleischmann (Nature 489, 34; 2012), like many others, ignores the experimental evidence contradicting the view that cold fusion is ‘pathological science’ (see www.lenr.org). I gave an alternative perspective in my obituary of Fleischmann in The Guardian (see go.nature.com/rzukfz), describing what I believe to be the true nature of what Ball calls a “Shakespearean tragedy”.
The situation at the time of the announcement of cold fusion was confused because of errors in the nuclear measurements (neither Fleischmann nor his co-worker Stanley Pons had expertise in this area) and because of the difficulty researchers had with replication. Such problems are not unusual in materials science. Some were able, I contend, to get the experiment to work (for example, M. C. H. McKubre et al. J. Electroanal. Chem. 368, 55–56; 1994; E. Storms and C. L. Talcott Fusion Technol. 17, 680; 1990) and, in my view, to confirm both excess heat and nuclear products.
Skepticism also arose because the amount of nuclear radiation observed was very low compared with that expected from the claimed levels of excess heat. But it could be argued that the experiments never excluded the possibility that the liberated energy might be taken up directly by the metal lattice within which the hydrogen molecules were absorbed.
In my opinion, none of this would have mattered had journal editors not responded to this skepticism, or to emotive condemnation of the experimenters, by setting an unusually high bar for publication of papers on cold fusion. This meant that most scientists were denied a view of the accumulating positive evidence.
The result? Fleischmann was effectively denied the credit due to him, and doomed to become the tragic figure in Ball’s account.
For more, see Brian Josephson’s Link of the Day archive.